Facebook has been in the news frequently in the last few years, ranging from allegations that the platform does not do enough to protect its users to being accused of biometrics violations, to CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent Congressional testimony regarding the tech giant’s allegedly anticompetitive behavior. Several of these events have resulted in litigation for the social media giant. As Facebook has grown into a massive company, and questions continue to be asked about the company’s responsibilities, a select set of law firms have spearheaded Facebook’s representation in federal court.
The below analysis and accompanying visuals were created by Docket Alarm’s One-Click Analytics and reflect trends in Facebook’s appearances in federal court from January 2019 to September 2020.
The top 10 firms, measured by Docket Alarm’s count of the number of federal civil cases handled from January 2019 to September 2020 are:
- Keker & Van Nest; (personal injury, contract, civil rights, fraud)
- Hunton Andrews Kurth; (contract and statutory action)
- Cooley; (statutory actions, patent, contract)
- Pincus Law; (contract, civil rights)
- Gibson Dunn & Crutcher; (personal injury, property damage, federal violations)
- Covington & Burling; (personal injury and contract)
- Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr; (antitrust, fraud, civil rights)
- Potter Minton; (patent, personal injury)
- Tucker Ellis; (trademark)
- Davis Wright Tremaine. (assault, defamation)
The firms represent a variety of practice areas, with some well-known full-service law firms accompanied by more specialized firms, often focusing on intellectual property. Predictably, the suits range from intellectual property, contract, personal injury, civil rights, antitrust, and other statutory actions. The types of suits range from traditional business litigation to the emerging privacy and antitrust litigation.
In all of Facebook’s federal civil suits found on Docket Alarm, Facebook has been a defendant 85 percent of the time, in 141 suits out of 178.
According to an analysis of the PACER Nature of Suit case types, the largest shares belong to the “Civil Rights-Other” and “Statutory Actions-Other” categories. This is followed by personal injury, contract, patent, and trademark. Lastly, case types such as prisoner matters, copyright, assault and libel, fraud, antitrust, property, and securities are less common. This illustrates the variety of litigation that Facebook has faced since the beginning of 2019, but also shows emerging trends in 2020 as the heightened influence of Facebook is scrutinized. However, while one might expect the number of antitrust suits to be higher in light of recent Congressional scrutiny, the tech giant has only faced five antitrust suits from January 1, 2019, to September 30, 2020. Three out of the five filings were related to each other.
Meanwhile, from 2019 to 2020, Potter Minton has increased the number of cases where it represents Facebook, which is usually patent litigation defense. Pincus Law is another firm that has increased its business with Facebook from 2019 to 2020.
While most of the firms represent Facebook as the defendant, Hunton Andrews Kurth solely represents Facebook as the plaintiff. Attorney Ann Mortimer is listed as a representative for Facebook in all of these suits, the majority of which are statutory actions, such as a suit for extracting data and collecting likes and another one that harvested user data.
Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr solely represented Facebook as the defendant in antitrust, fraud, and civil rights suits. Most of these suits were filed towards the end of 2019 and into 2020. A large ongoing antitrust suit that the firm has represented Facebook on was brought by Reveal Chat Co. et al., who allege that Facebook used its developer API tools to shut out the competition.
Davis Wright Tremaine solely represented defendant Facebook in cases filed under “assault, libel and slander.” All of these defamation suits were brought against Facebook by the same plaintiff, who claimed that Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and Google were suppressing certain political voices after they were banned from social media platforms.
Covington & Burling represented Facebook frequently in 2020, with most of their suits being filed between March and May 2020. The overwhelming majority of Covington & Burling’s Facebook suits are related to Zoom Video Communications. As Zoom exploded in popularity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company faced a large influx of litigation as a result of its privacy and security practices, some of which implicated Facebook.
In 2019, Tucker Ellis represented Facebook in four suits; three out of the four suits were trademark-related and the last was for fraud. Furthermore, Facebook was the plaintiff in all of these suits, which were filed in the Northern District of California. While Tucker Ellis plays a prominent role in Facebook’s 2019 litigation, the firm has yet to represent Facebook in 2020, according to the data. This could be an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Facebook is the defendant in all the suits where it is represented by Keker & Van Nest. These suits cover a wide range of case types, from contract and personal injury to civil rights and statutory actions. Approximately a quarter of the firm’s suits were filed within the past three months.
Most of Facebook’s litigation occurred in the Northern District of California, likely due to the company’s location in Silicon Valley. The judge overseeing the most Facebook cases is Judge Alan Albright, who oversaw almost double the number of suits as the remaining top 5 judges. In particular, Judge Albright mostly oversaw patent suits for Facebook in the Western District of Texas, where Facebook was often the defendant. Judge James Donato of the Northern District of California oversaw a variety of suits, including other personal injury and other statutory actions. Judge Jon Tigar, presided over mostly trademark suits in the Northern District of California. Judge William Orrick oversaw copyright, civil rights, and statutory suits in the Northern District of California, and Judge Cathy Seibel of the Southern District of New York oversaw prisoner rights, civil rights, and trademark suits.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook’s legal work has remained fairly consistent in comparison to recent years, at least when it comes to federal civil suits. For the most part, filings were consistent throughout the time period. However, there were some noticeable trends. For example, in 2020, filings dipped in February, but spiked in March and decreased again in April, although not to February’s level; these fluctuations can likely be attributed to the pandemic.
As may be expected from a tech giant at the forefront of the social media revolution, Facebook faces litigation that reflects current events. There was a large increase in civil rights suits in July 2020 in comparison to any other month; meanwhile, an increase of personal injury suits in April and May 2020 is tied to the aforementioned influx of lawsuits against Zoom.
The analytics in this article are powered by One-Click Analytics from Docket Alarm. To learn more, schedule a demo with the Docket Alarm team.